More than two years ago at the height of the Christmas season, the Rev. Bill Brisotti got a call in the middle of the night that his church in Wyandanch was on fire.
Set by an arsonist, according to Suffolk police, the fire gutted the rectory, priests' residence and outreach center at Our Lady of Miraculous Medal Church, one of the poorest parishes on Long Island.
Thursday, about 27 months later, church officials broke ground on a rebuilding project.
"It's been a real ordeal," Brisotti said of the delays in reconstruction, due mainly to zoning requirements and fundraising. He added: "The buildings were damaged but the spirit of the parish is getting stronger."
Babylon Town Supervisor Steve Bellone praised the project and the parish, saying, "This is the most economically stressed community on Long Island. This [parish] is truly a beacon of hope in this community."
Aury Chavez, 18, an immigrant from the Dominican Republic who is taking an English course at the parish and who sings in the choir, said, "I'm very happy" the parish is rebuilding.
Brisotti said insurance will cover the first phase of the reconstruction, but the parish still needs about $500,000 more to start work on the outreach center. The center has operated out of trailers in the church parking lot since the fire on Dec. 30, 2007.
Robert B. Catell, former chairman of National Grid, has offered a $100,000 matching grant for the project if someone else steps forward with the same amount, church officials said.
People interested in donating any amount can call the church at 631-643-7568 or Lynch Development Associates at 631-351-1368.